The X-Factor is back, and this time it’s war. Apparently, those minxy little devils have been auto-tuning the vocals of the contestants they want the public to vote for.
1. Gamu Nhengu
Didn’t think anything was amiss? You’ll probably think it really obvious when you know what to look out for: I know I do. Auto-Tune makes people sound like robots. It’s an audio processor by Antares Audio Technologies, which automatically corrects the pitch to the nearest true semitone if you go off-key. It was invented by Exxon engineer Andy Hildebrand as a seismic data tool before he realised its potential as an audio device, and now it’s become so ubiquitous that – like airbrushing in photographs – you probably don’t even realise how unnatural it sounds.
This is the first time you probably heard Auto-Tune. I remember assuming it was a vocoder – the device used to distort Pink Floyd’s vocals in Sheep – and they encouraged that assumption for a long time because Auto-Tune was a “trade secret” up to that point. It’s responsible for the weird, robotic sound, so any time you hear that it’s probably because Auto-Tune is in use.
Even though the overprocessing of vocal effects is quite jarring in this show, it has enough exuberance and natural charm to win most of us over. Just like the inexplicably colour co-ordinated outfits and spontaneous choreography, the pitch-perfect (and quite inhuman) vocals just seem to match. It’s just a technicolour high school dream.
4. Moulin Rouge
You know the saying, “you can’t polish a turd”? Like it or not, Auto-Tune can’t whip great voices out of thin air. It’s pretty clear that Nicole Kidman has at least a smidgeon of vocal talent. It’s equally clear that Ewan McGregor does not, and this proves that you can perform all the studio wizardry in the world and you end up with a rather flaccid-sounding robot.
5. Auto-Tune The News
Ah, finally someone knows exactly what to do with this wondrous new technology! The Auto-Tune The News Show has been delighting YouTube viewers for over a year now with its delightfully silly take on the day’s headlines.
Oh, and just in case you’d actually forgotten what real vocals sound like, here’s a little something back from the days when singers looked individual, as well as having their own unique sound …